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Talk Radio Listeners Lose Longtime Pal: Akron Broadcast Legend Dies of Complications From Surgery

December 21, 2006

By Connie Bloom, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio

Dec. 21–Joe Finan had a knack for reaching through the radio and embracing his audience. Listeners liked to say they never met him, but they’d known him their entire lives.

“The rapport, the closeness he had with callers, I don’t think you’ll see that with another personality,” said WNIR news anchor Phil Ferguson, one of Finan’s colleagues.

“To listen to the old-time stories about Elvis Presley and all the great entertainers, it was so enjoyable. Joe Finan was the consummate storyteller and it came through the radio on a daily basis.”

Mr. Finan, a Northeast Ohio broadcasting and television legend, died in a Richmond Heights hospital Tuesday of complications from surgery.

He was 79.

Mr. Finan’s death is a shock to the community, especially so close to the loss of another radio icon, Jay Drennan, on Dec. 15, said Stan Piatt, morning host on WNIR (100.1 FM). Drennan was 78.

Finan retired from WNIR in 2004. He was last heard in October on WARF (1350-AM).

Joseph Albert Finan was born July 6, 1927, in Butler, Pa. He was the son of Michael and Gertrude Finan and brother to two sisters, Rosemary Papas of Butler, and Sheila McLoone of Hobie Sound, Fla. He had a brother, the late Michael Finan, also of Butler, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Finan was a veteran, serving in the Navy in 1944-45. He attended Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh.

“He was larger than life,” said his son, Tim Finan.

“He was just there for everybody. He had a really strong moral compass where right and wrong were plain and obvious, and he wondered why everybody else couldn’t see it. He was intellectually turned on. He never finished school but he was an intellect I could only hope to be.”

Finan had a storied history. He became a big-time rock jock at KYW (now WTAM) during the 1950s, according to a profile in the Beacon Journal.

He was the first weatherman on an 11 p.m. news block in the history of Cleveland TV, working at the old KYW (Channel 3). He was general manager and part owner of a radio station in Denver, where in 1963 he put together the third all-rock format in the nation and consistently finished second or third in a tough 35-station market.

“He’s done so much in 60 or so years in the business; he was a TV weatherman, worked at big-time stations, was one of the top five or six DJs when radio was really strong,” said Ferguson.

“There was a time in the ’50s when Cleveland Radio was owned by Bill Randall and Joe Finan, two of the legends,” said Piatt. “And Joe always talked about how he was given the chance to play Elvis Presley’s first record, but Joe said no, it was too country for the format. So it went to Bill Randall, who got the credit. Cleveland was the premier market in the country.”

Finan got caught up in the payola scandal that rocked the radio and record industries in the 1950s. He was subpoenaed to testify before a congressional committee in 1959.

“He owned up to it and had to leave Cleveland for it,” said Piatt. “Joe admitted to payola, but he wouldn’t squeal, so he took the fall for a lot of other guys.”

When he left Cleveland, Finan became the color voice of the Denver Broncos football team for quite a few years, Piatt said. “That was a good gig.”

In retrospect, Finan once described the payola episode as the “beginning of wisdom.”

“Joe was at our station for about 15 years,” said Piatt, “and had very solid ratings. It was easy for him to talk to you about life. He was not secretive about being in AA and I looked up to him. He as a great role model for a lot of us.”

Far from the prototype of the contemporary talk-show host, Finan’s shows were known for their intellectual honesty.

Beacon Journal columnist Bob Dyer, who covered radio at the time, said in 1992 that readers trusted him to tell it like it is.

“Part of Finan’s appeal is that he’s a talking encyclopedia, an avid student of world history and a current-events freak who — thanks to a long-ago Evelyn Wood speed-reading course — digests five newspapers a day.”

Listeners counted on him to bring clarity to complex issues — the ramifications of a foreign election, the lowering of the prime rate, the repercussions of genetic engineering — too much thinking for the mainstream.

“We respected Joe so much, we threw a roast for him,” said Piatt. “Joe was as funny as anybody who roasted him. Dick Goddard credited Joe Finan with his getting into the weather business. When he was studying in the Navy, he watched Joe Finan on TV. He had been doing radio and TV for a while.

“He said if Joe could do it, he could do it. All you needed was to be conversational.”

Burial services will be private. Memorials can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.

You can reach Connie Bloom at 330-996-3568 or e-mail cbloom@ thebeaconjournal.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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